Academic Ceremonies - December Commencement

Remarks: Jane E. Knodell, Provost and Senior Vice President

Good morning and congratulations to our December 2010 graduates.

Today is a time when it makes sense to step back and consider our mission at the University of Vermont.  For you as graduates and for the faculty members that have taught and guided you, it is an apt time to reflect on the meaning of a UVM education as captured by our mission statement. 

Don’t fear. Our mission is contained in a single sentence:

“To create, evaluate, share, and apply knowledge and to prepare students to be accountable leaders who will bring to their work dedication to the global community, a grasp of complexity, effective problem-solving and communication skills, and an enduring commitment to learning and ethical conduct.”

I’d like to focus on several ideas in that densely packed statement — “a grasp of complexity” and “accountable leaders.”

All of our most vexing issues and all of our greatest opportunities for progress will require a “grasp of complexity,” an understanding of interconnections between problems and processes, whether between

  • long-term environmental health and long-term economic health,or
  • between world peace and world hunger; 
  • between public health and social justice. 

A “grasp of complexity” requires an ability to evaluate information and ideas from a multitude of perspectives, and to emerge from the labyrinth with the comprehension and conviction necessary to forge real solutions.

“To be accountable leaders” — that is our hope for all of you. Leaders are everywhere, of course; they are not only presidents, CEO’s, and executive directors. They are teachers, nurses, head coaches, mothers and fathers, volunteers in community organizations, and so many other essential roles.

Accountable leaders aren’t perfect ones. Meaningful progress is impossible if you strive for perfection, but, as a leader, you must be prepared to be held accountable for the dozens of complex decisions that you will make on a daily basis.  So you must make your decisions with knowledge and compassion.  You must have the courage to stand by your decisions and the humility to admit when you have made a mistake.

And you must persevere. 

So here is some advice from President Calvin Coolidge, native son of Vermont:

“I have found it advisable not to give too much heed to what people say when I am trying to accomplish something of consequence. Invariably they proclaim it can't be done. I deem that the very best time to make the effort.”

And here’s another one:

“Anyone can give up, it's the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that's true strength.”

So as I look across this audience of graduates, I am confident that we have, in fact, achieved our mission. Your presence at this ceremony is a marker of your personal accomplishment and our progress as an institution, and I am both humbled and inspired by the collective potential in this room. You have been well-prepared to make a significant and lasting mark on the world.

Personally and on behalf of my faculty colleagues at the University of Vermont, I wish you well.


Last modified January 02 2011 12:47 PM

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